Zimbabwe: Menstrual Hygiene Day 28 May 2020

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IThemba for Girls Trust (IGT) is joining the world in observing International Menstrual Hygiene Day. This day has been set aside to raise awareness on the importance of Menstrual Health Management globally. Menstrual Health and Hygiene is at the core of women/girls' health and as such it is their fundamental right and imperative for them to access proper menstrual products and practice menstrual hygiene every time they experience menstruation.

Whilst menstruation is a natural biological process for every woman/girl necessary for the reproductive system, the process in not accorded the importance it deserves. Both men and women are uncomfortable talking about it and as a result not much attention is given to it regarding the basic hygienic environment such as toilets with running water and sanitary bags to dispose of their used pads necessary for a dignified menstrual experience especially in developing countries.

In African societies talking about menstruation is considered a taboo, a topic never to be talked about openly, as a result, not much planning is made in families for that expense, they do not budget for purchasing menstrual products, and this leaves women/girls to experience what we can call "period poverty" a state where many women/girls struggle every month to buy proper menstrual hygiene products. Some girls even miss school as a result of lack of sanitary pads during their menstruation, which impacts negatively on their academic achievement.

Lack of adequate information regarding menstruation especially in developing nations creates room for misconceptions, myths and damaging information that leads to stigmatization that surrounds the whole concept of menstruation which has a negative impact on the confidence and dignity of women/girls. Girls in particular should be accorded a dignified environment in schools where they can experience menstruation without stress, shame and embarrassment, in a friendly, accommodative, knowledgeable, supportive and understanding environment.

With particular reference to Zimbabwe, Menstrual Health Management for women/girls has always been a nightmare considering the country 's continued economic problems and unemployment as high as 85%, many women and girls cannot afford to buy sanitary pads and they resort to using unhygienic methods to manage their menstruation. This situation has been worsened by the COVID-19 and the lockdown.

With COVID-19 lockdowns, there is increased "period poverty "with limited resources to purchase sanitary products. Lockdown comes with restricted movement which means women/girls' access to sanitary pads will further be limited and the products themselves will be scarce as they might run out of stock as production is limited. The only alternative left for them would be to use unhygienic methods such as old rugs for their menstruation during this lockdown, in the process exposing themselves to greater risk of infections.

The government needs to regard this issue as a priority. Education about menstruation should be introduced at an early age in schools and encouraged at homes. It is also the responsibility of the government to make sure that affordable sanitary products are accessible to all even in the marginalized areas through subsidizing the price of sanitary pads or even making them free especially for school going girls. It is also the responsibility of the government to make sure that women/girls access safe sanitation that promotes hygienic experiences during their menstruation especially in schools.

We need a united front in fighting for this cause and we are calling all civic organizations, churches, ordinary citizens and political leaders to join in the fight for the dignity of women/girls in ending "period poverty".

Source: IThemba for Girls Trust

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